With the identity of one Carabao Cup finalist already pretty clear, the all-Midlands clash in the other semi-final has a fairly obvious favourite, while still retaining the possibility to shock neutrals. All signs point to Leicester City, who play at home in tonight’s first leg, progressing to the final over the course of the 180 minutes against Aston Villa, particularly in light of the visitors’ injury troubles. However, the Villains are unlikely to roll over for their opposition, and having lost 4-1 in the sides’ league meeting, seem likely to approach this tie with a defensive mindset.
There is some history here: In his last managerial job on English soil, Brendan Rodgers was denied a shot at the FA Cup Final by a shock defeat against Villa in the 2015 semi-final. A few months later, he was relieved of his Anfield duties, and that defeat remains the last time a Rodgers side lost a cup-tie – as Celtic manager, he completed a clean sweep of domestic honours before leaving for the East Midlands last winter with the League Cup in the bag and the Celts still involved in the Scottish Cup (which they won under Neil Lennon). The odds on Villa doing the damage here are long, but stranger things have happened.
Vardy back in contention at the right moment
Having struggled through the festive fixtures, Villa currently sit 17th in the Premier League and spent the weekend being knocked out of the FA Cup by Championship side Fulham. Boss Dean Smith could be forgiven for seeing this particular tie as a needless distraction from the primary task of staying in the top flight. However, they’re in the semis as it is – would one more match be that much of a problem, especially if it were a Wembley final?. A bigger headache for Smith seems likely to come with the announcement of the team line-ups, where the Foxes are expected to call upon Premier League top scorer Jamie Vardy.
Vardy has missed the last three games for City as a consequence of injury and fatherhood, but his side have carried on more or less regardless, picking up wins over West Ham and Newcastle in the league before brushing past Wigan in the FA Cup. They’ve even managed to score seven goals in the absence of their main attacking talisman, and come into this match with a strong squad to choose from. Villa are almost certain to respond by defending deep, which makes the concession of free-kicks all the more likely – so a punt on set-piece wizard James Maddison to pick up an assist (9/4, Unibet) is worth taking.
Injuries to impair visiting Villains?
The impressive thing about Villa since their return to the Premier League has been the refusal to be one of those sides that sets out not to lose each game. They’ve been keen to have a go, and this has led to impressive results, with midfielder John McGinn being at the hub of a solid attacking team. The bad news for Villa coming into this match is that McGinn’s ankle injury is serious enough to make his participation in either leg of the tie unlikely. Indeed, he may be out until March. Worse yet, the Villains are still digesting the news that main striker Wesley and starting goalkeeper Tom Heaton are done for the season thanks to ligament injuries.
Villa are, therefore, stymied at both ends and in no real condition to be facing a Leicester side with its main striker back in contention. As much as they may seek to keep the hosts at arm’s length here, Smith’s men face a titanic battle and they don’t seem to have the resources to fight it successfully. Blunted in attack without Wesley and McGinn, and shorn of Heaton and left-back Matt Targett, it’s not unreasonable to expect Villa to lose this game to nil. Backing “Leicester to win and “No” on Both Teams To Score” at 23/20 with Betway seems like a worthwhile shout.
Rodgers to keep cup run going
In all likelihood, the winners of this tie will face Manchester City at Wembley in March. That’s not the best news for Leicester fans, who will already know that the Citizens have eliminated their heroes on penalties in the last two editions of the Carabao Cup. However, it’s not likely to put them off giving this match their best, as it may be the best chance for some silverware the club has had since winning the league in 2016. In addition, a semi against Villa is just about as kind a draw as Leicester could have hoped for, Rodgers’ history notwithstanding.
With a home league game against Southampton to come this Saturday, the Foxes can pick their strongest available side here and be confident of having enough to get through the weekend. All signs point to them having a comfortable night on home soil, and backing them to win 2-0 on the night at 32Red is a sound idea, with the bookmaker offering 23/4 odds on that outcome. With a side that has only lost to Manchester City and Liverpool since September, the hosts are entitled to be seen as comfortable favourites.
Bets of the Day
Leicester 2-0 (32Red, 23/4); Maddison to make an assist (Unibet, 9/4); Leicester win and NO BTTS (Betway, 23/20)